Sunday Times: Israel will send its most senior military strategist to China this week to convince Beijing that it is serious about plans to bomb nuclear facilities in Iran if international sanctions fail to curb Tehran’s development of atomic weapons.
The Sunday Times
Uzi Mahnaimi in Tel Aviv
Israel will send its most senior military strategist to China this week to convince Beijing that it is serious about plans to bomb nuclear facilities in Iran if international sanctions fail to curb Tehran’s development of atomic weapons.
The visit, part of an intense round of diplomacy between China and Israel, follows signs that Beijing will shortly back tougher economic sanctions against Iran at the United Nations security council.
China, which has the power of veto, has previously resisted such a move. President Barack Obama held an hour-long telephone call with President Hu Jintao last week. Hu will now attend a nuclear security summit to be hosted by Obama next week in Washington.
Diplomatic observers have been astonished by the pace of Israeli diplomacy in China.
Major-General Amir Eshel, who heads the Israeli army’s planning directorate, will fly to Beijing this week. Eshel, an air force pilot, will warn China of the international consequences of military action, particularly the potential disruption to oil supplies on which much of China’s manufacturing and international trade depend. Tougher sanctions, he will argue, are the lesser of two evils.
Last month Major-General Amos Yadlin, the head of Israeli military intelligence, was dispatched to Beijing with the latest information about Iran’s progress towards making a nuclear device, which some experts believe could be achieved later this year.
“Yadlin was given Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s personal permission to release Mossad’s latest evidence about Iran’s progress towards testing nuclear warheads, enriching uranium and adopting their Shahab missiles to carry nuclear warheads,” said a source.
In a move described as “incredibly rare”, China sent a general to Tel Aviv last week to inspect the Israeli air force’s strike capabilities. Military relations between the two countries have been strained since a deal to export Israeli-built early warning aircraft to China collapsed under American pressure in 2000.
The Israeli lobbying in Beijing has not gone unnoticed in Tehran. Last week Saeed Jalili, the senior Iranian nuclear negotiator, rushed to Beijing to warn the Chinese authorities that stepping up sanctions could cost them dearly. China relies on Iran as an oil supplier and trade partner and is the world’s second largest importer of crude oil.
Jalili sounded confident when he stepped out of his meetings in Beijing. “In our talks with China it was agreed that tools such as sanctions have lost their effectiveness,” he said. But when he was asked whether China backed sanctions against Iran, he was evasive: “It’s up to China to answer that.”
Saudi Arabia, the biggest supplier of crude oil to China, recently promised to supply all the oil it needs at a cheaper rate than Iran in return for supporting sanctions.
Relations between Beijing and Washington have been icy in the past year. China was angry about Obama’s meeting with the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled Buddhist leader, and US arms sales to Taiwan. Now there are signs of a thaw.
The US president’s stronger political position at home since his success in pushing through healthcare reform seems to have convinced the Chinese leadership that he may be a two-term president with whom they will have to deal.
There are signs of an accord with the United States over other issues including a revaluation of the yuan, the Chinese currency, which America argues is substantially undervalued against the dollar, seriously damaging the efforts of US companies to export to China.
Obama sounded optimistic last week after his talks with Hu that he could win international agreement for a new round of sanctions against Iran. “We’re going to ratchet up the pressure and examine how they [the Iranians] respond but we’re going to do so with a unified international community,” he said.